A week after warning a new mask mandate was on the horizon, Los Angeles officials are now saying the area may well escape any new Covid rules.
Los Angeles County remains slightly below the CDC’s “high” community tier and while moving to that level is still possible, LA County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she was less certain the region would remain there long enough to warrant a mask mandate given current trends.
Case counts are up about 40 percent week on week with the understanding that the reported figures are a vast undercount due to the prevalence of unreported home tests. In her weekly briefing, Ferrer said hospitalizationsa are up about 9% which is less than the increase seen last month, possibly due to increased use of treatments for the disease keeping people at home and out of hospital beds.
However, she said even if metrics increased, current cases are being driven by new variants that may peak quickly and then decline just as quickly, preventing the prolonged stress on the healthcare system that would require new mask rules.
“As I’ve noted before, that universal indoor masking would only go into into effect after we’ve had two weeks, two consecutive weeks, of remaining at that high level for both thresholds with the hospital metrics. We’re actually not sure that we’ll get there,” she said.
Ferrer said any predictions about the future were difficult because as Covid evolves, new strains prompt new problems. Locally, officials are seeing a new strain increase to about 45% of all cases and Ferrer said another new version is growing around the margins.
“New circulating variants that dominate increased risk for infection due to their ability to evade prior immunity,” she said.
According to Ferrer, those new variants are worth tracking, but as of this week, she thinks there’s hope to avoid the worst outcomes.
“I think it’s fair to say say that I’m feeling more hopeful that our metrics might improve before they tank,” she said. “I really do. I mean, I could be wrong. And that’s why, you know, sort of the crystal ball questions are always, so difficult because, with a new with a new strain, it’s very, very hard to know exactly what’s going to happen. But there is the possibility that we peak quickly and we start to go down quickly. It is a new strain, so we’re going to have a different experience.
Ferrer said the change in tone was less a retreat from last week’s warning and more a representation of her optimism that a crisis will be averted. Even without a requirement, she said her office continues to recommend masks as a prudent step to help head off any emergency problems.
“We know everyone is super focused on like, ‘when might this be universal masking? You know, indoor masking requirements.’ But what we really want to focus on today is we all need to wear our masks now. We haven’t reached that super dangerous threshold where CDC has said ‘no, you really need to start worrying about your hospital system.’ But we’ve reached the threshold and all of the data shows, this where there’s just too much transmission and it’s creating a lot of risk. And the time to mitigate the risk is actually now.”